East Jefferson General Hospital

The Endangered Species Act was enacted by the United States Congress in 1973 to protect "species that are likely to become extinct throughout all or a large portion of their range." There is also protection for Threatened Species, "that are likely to become endangered in the near future."

As of October 2009, 1,361 plants and animals in the United States were listed as threatened or endangered. I would like to add to the list a new threatened species known as the "Quarterback" - both college and professional versions of this species.

The college QB species was left unprotected at that great learning institution Yale recently, such that the Bulldogs (Yale) lost three quarterbacks to injuries against Penn during a game in October. And, according to reports, "are down to their fifth-stringer, who played on the junior varsity last season."

Over in the big leagues - the NFL - in week10, four QBs were out with injuries (three concussions and one shoulder injury). I am not aware that it is open hunting season on QBs.

However, it did prompt New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who suffered a concussion in 2005 while with San Diego and a career-threatening shoulder injury at the end of the 2005 season, and "an injury scare in the 2010 season when he took a shot on his left knee in a game against the Falcons, suffering what Saints Coach Sean Payton later described as a low-grade MCL sprain," to say "some of it is luck."

In fact, since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees has not missed a snap due to injury, a true testimony to his physical and mental preparation for the rigors of the NFL.

NFL QBs are basically treated with kid gloves, for the most part, in practice where they wear a red jersey, which means "do not touch me." Roman Centurians wore red capes into battle, so that if injured, their men would not turn and run from the enemy fearing the loss of their leader.

Posted in the backfield of an NFL game is an official who watches for illegal hits to the QB, while all NFL QBs understand that once outside the formerly safe confines of the "pocket" they are fair game unless they take a lesson from baseball and slide feet first into submission prior to being assaulted by larger, much more physical hunters - the defense.

Add to the fact that QBs wear a light-weight flack jacket, much like our soldiers do in combat, and you can see that NFL QBs have all the comforts of a protected species environment. So why do I suggest that they need to be on the government's Protected Species list?

In Last Sunday's New York Times sports section, there was an interesting column by Judy Battista, "NFL-Ready Rookie Class is Set to Rewrite Record Books." The article made reference to how "college coaches run their practices more like the NFL's, heavy on mental preparation, while taking care to preserve players' bodies for games." Of course, that is not to say that both the physical and mental aspects of college and pro game preparation is not demanding, but is does point out a potential work hardening issue, as it pertains to the endangered QB species.

Should the NFL QB be better prepared to take tough hits? Would you not expect a combat company commander in the Marines, Army, etc., to not only to lead the attack, but also fight alongside their fellow combatants. Recently, I watched the movie, "300" where these brave men, lead by Spartan King Leonidas, took their convictions and training to battle 10,000 Asians, who asked them to bow down before their Asian king. Leonidas led, fought and died along the way with his men. By the way, one Spartan survived, went back to Sparta, got Senate approval and returned later with 10,000 of his own Spartan countrymen and finished off the Asians.

Let's see if the NFL QB is ready for that type of commitment beyond the line of scrimmage.

Sooner or later, NFL defenses, especially the defensive line and linebackers, will hone their skills, such that they will reach the QB in record time, even with all his protection, and deliver legal, devastating blows to what is already a threatened species and place the QB on the Endangered Species List as No. 1,362.

Archie Manning, a former Saints quarterback and 15-year NFL veteran, says for the NFL QB today, "the best thing he can do is to know where you are going with the football and to get rid of it." According to Manning," today the quarterback has about 3 seconds to deliver the ball." He emphasizes that the QB is more vulnerable than anyone else on the field. They are trained to stand in the pocket and look for the open receiver. The ribs and knees are exposed, especially if the defensive linemen are coming in low in a "crawl position," which prompted the NFL to institute the Brady rule several years ago, when Patriots QB Tom Brady was hit low and suffered an ACL injury.

Last week Jacksonville QB Blaine Gabbert injured his right forearm in Sunday's loss to the Texans. Add that injury to a torn labrum in his shoulder from a past injury and it is no wonder that this week the Jaguars placed Gabbert on injured reserve ending his season.

In week 11, San Francisco, the Saints' Sunday opponent in the Superdome, had 11 noted player injuries, which represented 24 percent of their 45-man work force. One of the endangered species, 49ers QB Alex Smith, was out with a concussion suffered in week 10. Smith was replaced by back up Colin Kaepernick, who threw for 243 yards and two TDs against the Bears.

The Bears, also in week 10, lost their protected species QB Jay Cutler to a similar fate - the concussion.

Last week the 49ers star linebacker Aldon Smith recorded 5 ½ sacks against the Bears. With Saints offensive tackle Zack Strief nursing a groin injury, which by the way was determined not to be a sports hernia in need of repair, and backup offensive tackle Charles Brown with a knee injury causing him to miss Wednesday's practice, Brees will need to get rid of the ball well within 3 seconds.

Even if Strief can play, the pain threshold of his groin injury will dictate the length and quality of his ability to protect Brees. If Strief and Brown are both out, undrafted rookie free agent offensive tackle Bryce Harris would be called into action to fill the void.

I suspect then Harris will look up and find himself across from a charging Aldon Smith, just waiting to give Harris a 49er welcome to the NFL. Then Brees will need to have his track shoes on.

The Times-Picayune reported Thursday that defensive end Junior Galette (ankle), and cornerback Elbert Mack (concussion) did not practice Wednesday, while running back Darren Sproles (hand surgery) did practice, after missing the past three games.

So now it's time for me to provide some thoughts on how injury-related factors can have an effect on the outcome of the Saints vs 49ers game. Based on my last two columns where I offered similar thoughts, I have been correct in the manner in which the Saints would attack their opponent and vice versa.

More than any other game so far this season, Drew Brees is at risk for sacks and associated trauma against the 49ers. The key linchpin is whether Zach Strief starts at his tackle position to protect Brees from Aldon Smith's onslaught. With only three seconds to get rid of the ball to an open receiver or transfer to a running back, Strief gives Brees the option to survive in the pocket. Should Strief not start or come out of the game, as a result of his current injury, or have an injured Charles Brown out as well, the last option of having the rookie Bryce Harris make his first NFL start will not bode well for Brees.

The 49ers will put pressure with Smith on the Saints' injured side of the line and push it to the max. Then they will position back up support on the side opposite of where Smith positions himself. Thus, the 49ers will force Brees to step up into the pocket, while collapsing it from both sides.

Undoubtedly, Brees sees this situation coming from the film study of the 49ers vs Bears game last week. As such, the 49ers will be vulnerable in the middle to a draw play, screen pass, and a quick release by Brees to the tight end on a hook pattern.

It would appear that Brees will need to roll out more often to shift the defense to a position more favorable to Brees' receivers, who must find that open seam in the defense.

The Saints' Thursday injury report had Strief limited in practice, while Brown did not practice.

When you watch an NFL game this coming weekend, record the length of time it takes the quarterback to "get rid of the ball," from the moment he takes the snap to his ball release point. If the timed action by the quarterback takes three seconds then that bodes well for both the QB and his offense. However, if the time extends from three to five seconds then a warning light should go off. Should the time equal or exceed five seconds then the potential is at hand for the QB to be in trouble, since the defensive player will not be able to slow down the impact on the QB, coming in at top speed. Thus, you have the etiology of just how the QB will go from a Threatened Species to the Endangered Species List.